An Old Witch Tells the President What to Do


I’m not a girl given to bragging, but I didn’t do too poorly in law school and I’ve managed to make a rather nice living swimming with the big sharks in the grown-up pool, taking on “billions-with-a-b” cases. I pulled A’s in a lot of law school classes, but the class in which I did my absolute best was Negotiations 101.

Of course, unlike our President, I didn’t go to Harvard Law School and I was only assistant editor, not editor, of Law Review. I’ve never taught ConLaw and I’ve never held elective office. But I have had cause to wonder, more than once, if Mr. Obama may not have been busy doing something else on the day they taught Negotiating 101 at HLS.

For most of his presidency, he’s shown a disappointing tendency to engage in a practice that lawyers call “negotiating against” himself. He stakes out a position — generally one that’s already far to the right of what his followers want — and then, without obtaining any concessions in return, simply volunteers to move closer to the Rapeublican position. More than once. Sometimes, even after he’s won, he’ll change a program to make it more palatable to the other side. (There may, in our history, have been Congresses with which this policy would have worked. But Mr. Obama came to town with a Congress radicalized by conservative ideas, animated by a deep racial hatred of the President, and convinced that compromise of any sort is a sign of weakness. With this Congress, Mr. Obama’s negotiating strategies have been disastrous. They simply believe, generally with good reason, that, eventually, he’ll cave to them.)

Of course, Mr. Obama will go down in history as our first African American President and that’s quite an accomplishment. Thanks to his willingness to run, G/Son has essentially grown up knowing only an African American President and his generation will likely accept as given that race plays no role in who may lead our country.

But, sadly, other than a health-care law that seriously disappoints his base (which would have preferred a clean, single-payer program), and having caught Osama bin Laden (whom George Bush never found), Mr. Obama can claim few important achievements beyond his election. (If Syria’s chemical weapons can be destroyed without war, that will be an achievement, although perhaps more due to Mr. Putin than Mr. Obama.)

So it’s been interesting to me to watch Mr. Obama finally begin to develop a spine (which, Goddess knows, may still turn to jelly at any moment) over the Rapeublicans’ most recent, desperate attempt to defund Mr. Obama’s health-care initiative.

First, let’s be clear. This law was passed legally and was upheld by our currently-conservative Supreme Court. The Rapeublicans made getting rid of the law the centerpiece of their 2012 election campaign and they lost — badly. So the “will of the people” has been pretty well expressed. (Even polls that show some dissatisfaction with the law often fail to distinguish between those who hate the idea of everyone getting health insurance and those who hate the idea of insurance companies getting a big bite out of the pie.) Second, let’s also be clear, the Rapeublicans are willing to attempt the desperate and unpopular gambit of shutting down the government to eliminate the health care law because they know that once millions of Americans can get insurance, once people with “pre-existing” conditions can’t be denied insurance, once parents can keep their college-age children on their insurance, once insurance companies have to spend at least 80% of what they take in on actual services, well then, it’s all over but the shouting. Americans will never agree to surrender those benefits. Nor should they. Every other developed country in the world manages to provide health care for its citizens and there’s no reason why the richest country on Earth shouldn’t do so, as well.

So, I’m an old woman who didn’t go to HLS and wouldn’t presume to imagine that I could lead the United States. But I’ll still, as someone who’s actually been in the field, practiced law, and successfully negotiated good outcomes for my clients, presume to give Mr. Obama some advice.

If I were sitting today where you sit, Mr. Obama, almost at the confluence of the Anacostia River, the Washington Chanel, and the Potomac River, here’s what I’d do:

I’d announce that, now that the government’s been closed for two days, I’m unwilling to sign anything but a clean bill to fund the government, except that now I also want the Rapeublicans to approve all of my judicial nominees who have been languishing in Congress lo these many years.

Tomorrow morning, I’d eat breakfast, put on my nice suit, walk out into the Rose Garden (it’s gorgeous in DC this week) and announce that now that I’ve slept on it, I won’t sign anything except a clean bill with approval of all of my judicial nominees and statehood for DC. I’d wave to the reporters, go play golf (include a woman this time, Mr. President), review their homework with my daughters, and get a massage.

On Friday, after I had lunch at the Palm with my wife (have the crabmeat cocktail and the steak salad, rare), I’d walk up to Dupont Circle and say that I’d been discussing it with Ms. Obama and, now, I’m unwilling to sign anything except a clean bill with approval of all of my judicial appointees, statehood for DC, and a new bill of Elizabeth Warren’s choosing.

I’d take the weekend off, go to Camp David, let the girls and the dogs run around and enjoy Indian Summer in Maryland, have dinner with some crazy, wild-eyed liberals, and make sure the press knew who they were and what we ate (include arugula and craft beer on the menu).

On Monday, I’d wait.

On Tuesday, I’d give a speech and announce that, having thought about it over the weekend, in the calm of Camp David, I also need a new program of really strong controls on financial markets.

You get the picture.

Right now, the only people upping the ante are the Rapeublicans. In order to “meet in the middle” and appear “reasonable” Mr. Obama has to move towards their position. That’s no way to negotiate.

Rapeublicans who are watching the polls go even further down on the notion of shutting down the government (they’ve already crossed that Rubicon — another river reference — so what the heck), need some additional motivation to move towards Mr. Obama. And they need to see that continuing to hold out will cost them even more.

Maybe, in the end, Mr. Obama shows what a reasonable guy he is by compromising on a new bill of Elizabeth Warren’s choosing and half of his judicial appointees. That’s how negotiations work.

Rant off.

Mr. President, What Have You Got to Lose?

Picture found here.

49 responses to “An Old Witch Tells the President What to Do

  1. Robert Mathiesen

    This is the best thing I’ve read anywhere about how to resolve the current stalemate. Your blog is always worth reading, but you’ve excelled yourself here.

  2. I totally wish I could figure out how to comment on your blog. At any rate this is spectacular! You started off with my own thoughts and then went way beyond withideas I would never have had. Except now I have them in my stash of strategies. Bravo!

    Tammy Vitale

    Date: Wed, 2 Oct 2013 23:08:37 +0000 To:

  3. Excellent post!

  4. The story of the acquisition of the Sibylline Books by Lucius Tarquinius Superbus, the semi-legendary last king of the Roman Kingdom, or Tarquinius Priscus, is one of the famous mythic elements of Roman history.

    Centuries ago, concurrent with the 50th Olympiad not long before the expulsion of Rome’s kings, an old woman “who was not a native of the country” (Dionysius) arrived incognita in Rome. She offered nine books of prophecies to King Tarquin; and as the king declined to purchase them, owing to the exorbitant price she demanded, she burned three and offered the remaining six to Tarquin at the same stiff price, which he again refused, whereupon she burned three more and repeated her offer. Tarquin then relented and purchased the last three at the full original price, whereupon she “disappeared from among men”

  5. Will you send this to him, or shall I? Love to you, sister. This is brilliant. Brillianter even than usual.

  6. Sorry, but no. Dreadful advice all around. Amusing though.

    The Republicans aren’t upping the ante at this stage. They are stuck in the trenches, Gallipoli style.

  7. Just one thing — will you please, please, please run for President?

  8. you are always good.
    but this is above and beyond.

  9. Breathtaking and brilliant.

    Simple, Clean-Cut and Clear, Adamant Action.

    I would add the all Democrats in the Congress and Senate — as well as the President — should have risen to the occasion and donated their pay (in full with a suitable additional amount — a nod to their benefits) to charities …

  10. Robert Mathiesen

    Are you saying, Virginia, that no matter what, the Republicans who shut things down won’t budge an inch — that absolutely nothing, including a possible destruction of the nation, can persuade them to budge? The sort of negotiations Hecate describes will test that claim.

    And if you’re right, then the game is over whatever strategy a President may adopt.

    The next step would then be either a new Julius Caesar, or lots of small local warlords, running the country. — more likely the former than the latter. There are lots of examples of both these outcomes in history whenever a nation overreaches itself. Nemesis follows hard on the footsteps of hubris like that.

  11. All I’m saying is that while this is, yes, clever and brilliant, it ain’t gonna do the trick — and would only hurt our first African-American Prez. I may very well be wrong — Go for it, kids! I’d rather get back to receiving our pay — we are on furlough at a very precarious time for our family — than be right. And I think you are misreading my original comment. Your reply would seem to suggest so. If Hecate were to come back with a version of this that works in the real atmosphere of downtown DC, where unfortunately the showdown is taking place and whose massive mfing dysfunction it underlines, I would be most appreciative. Dining on crab and Kobe beef while taking time off to play golf and get massages — we’ve tried this before, in our insouciant liberal phases, and it just don’t work. And, believe me when I say this, I’m a proud and very pissed off socialist, European style. Asking for shit that ain’t gonna happen not helpful either — at least not this time around. It would be an over-reaction born out of our own massive insecurities and lack of spine — and a direct mirror reflection on the assault the country is currently under by the folks who organized this fascist coup. If I’m wrong and such an approach worked, I would more than happy to suck it. I’m old and tired and depressed as hell by all this and worried about paying our mortgage. Obama should be on the phone with Elizabeth Warren and I expect he has been.

  12. Wow what a bunch of childish nonsense. Did you take your meds today? “Witch” lol

  13. Would it be so….

  14. Looks like Tropical Storm Karen may be en route to save the day–and remind us what it’s all about.
    I’m about to give in after several days of keeping it together and just get massively drunk. Part of what I meant in responding to Hecate’s great piece is that it’s okay to pivot wildly when negotiations are on — but having done a little bit of mediation work in the long distant past — one thing I do know is that you can’t pivot effectively if your posture is based on so much fakery that your internal mechanisms collapse. What Hecate proposed could very well be effective but it ain’t President Obama. He’s going to have to find this one within himself. I trust he will. That’s all … Cheers. I don’t know nothing bout nothing. Just another upset citizen out here. And, yeah, I will stick behind the Gallipoli thing. These TeaBastards are stuck in the front row trench and they themselves created the battleplan. They seem determined to go out chest first — let em.

  15. Robert Mathiesen

    Thanks, Virginia, I see better what you mean now. You are more optimistic than I. Would that politics as usual could work it out in the end, and somehow keep the economy going. My view is closer to that expressed by Gus DiZerega’s open facebook post dated October 1st.

  16. Robert Mathiesen

    Agreed about the TeaBastards and Gallipoli.

  17. Great stuff.
    And it could work if only we really had a liberally biased media.
    But we don’t.

  18. Awesome article, especially given that more ingenuous members of the Republican block — those not as talented at couching their idiotic ideas in inscrutable euphemism — are basically saying that they’ve gone so far that they…well:

    “We’re not going to be disrespected,” Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R-Ind.) told The Washington Examiner. “We have to get something out of this. And I don’t know what that even is.”

    Obama proposes Medicare for all and a doubling of taxes on the upper 1% to build incredible schools and community centers in struggling urban areas. Then the brave members of the suicide caucus can go back to their constituents bragging about saving the world from the Kenyan-socialist-fascist-muslim-Hitler.

  19. A couple of years ago I gave a pretty good description of Mr Obama’s style as: ” Here’s my bottom line; but I’m willing to settle for less.”
    Bravo madame !!! Would that he would !

  20. It should come as NO surprise to anyone that we’ve got the bang bang on Capitol Hill and someone(s) got shot. Which is why, hate to say, doing negotiations Sopranos style is just not gonna do it. We’re in the midst of a full blown Constitutional crisis — number three by my book. This is a scary scary moment and, with no disrespect to Hecate, better not to gloat about our Pres. not having been present for Negotiating 101. I have huge respect for the fellow by virtue alone of the fact that he has the physical courage to do his job — and that his family is out there also. So here’s my bottom line but I’m willing to settle for less sounds good, bearsense, when you’re not the dude out there putting yourself on the line but, again, just no. Want to make it better within the limits of the possible. Support your mfing Prez. It ain’t gonna get ANY better that BHO anytime soon.

  21. Pingback: » Blog Archive » Negotiations 101

  22. The only opening gambit that makes sense is to toss in the debt limit, or we get the same fight all over again within days for much higher stakes. After that… I’d start by rolling back the sequester. There should be no shortage of highly sympathetic victims of that misbegotten policy from within prominent Republicans’ districts…

  23. OMG! Too funny. I once ran a high stakes negotiation as an HOA prez against a “Big city” developer who thought those of us here in flyover land would be pushovers, and at the end not only was I holding firm to our key monetary demand, but the last time I gave him our offer while we talked over the phone I said, “…and your watch” (he wore a $10,000 Rolodex). He said, “”WHAT!?!?” and I said this has been going on too long and we want everything on our list, ($xxx,xxx.xx!), and I want your watch for all the headache. He was dumbfounded, but two hours later though I didn’t get the watch they paid 100% of our last demand.

  24. Thank you, thank you, thank you! You said perfectly what I’ve long thought….of course, I did NOT go to law school. I am not subtle or tactful and usually snap something like “Grow a pair, Mr. Obama!”

    And no, “supporting” a President who keeps giving in to the unruly, unreasonable Republicans is NOT the way to go. It gives him no real encouragement to be better himself! And we desperately need better.

  25. Pingback: Witches Have Balls…Who Knew?(Edit) | Experiential Pagan

  26. I no longer believe the President is a poor negotiator.

    His goal is to whatever “our” largest corporations want, and reap a reward like Bill Clinton’s $100 million plus after he’s done selling out his base.

    Pretending that the “Republicans made him do it” is simply his modus operandi. You can go back to before he was President, and see how his promise to help underwater homeowners with their mortgages turned into foaming the runway for the banksters.

    Or how his rhetoric against NAFTA has turned into a push for NAFTA on steroids, the TPP.

  27. I’m so glad that we still have some lawyers with a brain and some common sense!! The best part of all, it’s a WOMAN!! I would appoint you tomorrow if given the chance. Thank you for a fabulous point of view!!

  28. Exceptional idea. Too bad Barry doesn’t know how to swim with the sharks. He only taught, you know. *snicker*

  29. You sound like you actually think he wants different outcomes. He does know how to negotiate. He’s a conservative (neoliberal).

  30. It’s cute, but…only works if there is some other way to force a deal. In a voluntary transaction, those tactics by both sides result in the deal being called off. In a dispute, sometimes negotiation fails and the matter is settled through trial – the analog here would be an election, I suppose.
    But if Obama does make all those demands, and then there is a default, Obama gets the blame.
    What the Republicans have done is take America hostage, and with the debt limit, are threatening to execute a whole bunch of hostages. Your proposal is that Obama start taking hostages and threatening execution. No. That’s not what the President does during the crisis. Fight the terrorists, don’t become a terrorist.
    I understand the urge, and where you are coming from. In a normal budget negotiation, you’d be right. But don’t start using their tactics. They are evil. She who fights with monsters should look to it that she herself does not become a monster. When you gaze long inot na abyss the abyss also gazes into you…

  31. This is outrageous!! How could you publish such dangerous misinformation?! Everyone knows that Indian Summer doesn’t happen till after the first frost….

    Otherwise, excellent analysis! Keep pulling left to push the center back to, well, the center. Obama can do this. If Bachmann can crazy her way through lame-duckdom, then Obama has the right–no, responsibility–to serve as a counterweight.

  32. Have you considered sending this by email to the President? I would like to, and would except for your copyright notice

  33. I went to Harvard undergrad and Yale Law School and I practice law in NYC and my two cents are: Faced with a debt default, the Republicans will cave. So Obama should just hold his ground.

    Obama doesn’t need to demand statehood for D.C. or new financial controls or anything. He just has to wait, that’s all.

    Have you ever been in a negotiation where you think the other side will never cave and suddenly they do? It’s an amazing high.

  34. Actually, there’s no evidence that Bin Laden was killed. Most likely just another addition to the government’s 9-11 conspiracy myth, and must be believed on faith.

  35. I’ve always thought that defunding the Teabagger things first would be a nice approach, maybe close all the parks just in Teabagger districts, or perhaps defund anything that enables oil drilling, maybe just stop the Keystone permitting process for lack of funds, etc, but I like upping the ante too. Perhaps a combo punch would be effective.

  36. I agree with Hecate. In fact, she’s 100% dead on in every aspect. I’ve spent 25 years going toe-to-toe with lawyers, developers, government officials, negotiating real estate and zoning transactions in New York City. You absolutely need a position from which you can BARGAIN, and doing nothing is, well, doing nothing. Mind you, doing nothing (i.e., playing golf) can be a great tactic, but it has to come DURING a negotiation. It’s a message, and you need to keep sending messages that strengthen–NOT SOLIDIFY–your position. Solid is static, and you don’t want that. BTW, read up on your game theory, as Hecate clearly has.

    Oh, one more point. I agree that many of the nutbags in the GOP won’t change their minds under almost any situation. But remember that part of who Obama is negotiating with is the American people. He needs to manipulate their perceptions as much or more than those of the GOP. The administration is miserably poor at that, and has paid for it. Obama has sat and done nothing often and lost every time. I hope he’s learned Hecate’s lesson.

  37. Great as far as it goes, but I just recently posted on DailyKos ( that what he really needs to do is shut down “nonessential” federal things in Republican states, not nationwide. Make it hurt for the Republicans.

  38. This actually made me tear up!!! I am a witch alone in the “Steeped South” of Louisiana (Tea Party pun, ha ha) and my Facebook has been lit up with so much Tea Party line blather I was considering deactivating it because I realized all my “friends” are plain crazy. Your post is brilliantly hilarious, and oh if it could only be so. I do hope he makes them cave before Samhain, as we will be coming to Alexandria that week to visit family and I actually wanted to see some of the monuments…. And the Zodiac Fountain…

  39. Pingback: Links 10/5/13 | Mike the Mad Biologist

  40. Trouble is, Obama is a fiscal conservative and believes that we cannot afford Social Security. (In 2009 he said on CSPAN that the US gov’t is out of money.) He believes that, as a Democratic president, he will be able to “reform” entitlements where a Republican president could not. (Like Nixon in China.) That explains his apparent inability to negotiate. He is actually pursing his agenda.

  41. What Min said. Symbolism isn’t the reason to make someone President, and Obama beneath the skin is Joe Lieberman. And how many primary votes did Leiberman get?

  42. Pingback: Links 10/13/13 | Mike the Mad Biologist

  43. Reblogged this on jobsiteliberal and commented:

  44. Thanks. I’m a little late in reading this, but it’s really given me a lift. Blessed be!

  45. An interesting approach for a lawyer who claims to be all educated and such. How about the 17 TRILLION Dollars in debt of which your wonderful president is responsible for almost half of all by himself? When will someone stand up and say enough is enough and when? After our dollar is completely devalued and the world market moves to another currency? What then? We won’t be able to print any more to push that juggernaught bill that is surely coming due. Everyone seems to think that it is ok to rack up this much debt and not worry about it. I agree that none of the politicians can be trusted and that they have all been complicit but good grief people. Our entitlement mentality is going to drown us in debt and obligations that we can neve hope to repay or meet. All these people want to do is look good and jick the can down the road for the next guy to deal with. Wake up and smell the looming collapse of our country….it’s coming. No country can spend like we do, make promises like we do and ignore our fiscal responsibility. If you buy into the liberal lie of needing higher taxes to fix it you are blind. No amount of tax will fix this. Only the immediate ceasing of spending beyond our means will stop the slow but sure bleeding of our country dry. Stop supporting a government that is not acting in your best interest but in its own. The price of freedom is high and I will gladly pay it and have. The price of safety is even higher and will cost you your freedom in the end. Be careful what you empower because eventually that same power will be turned and used against you as well.

  46. Great post however , I was wanting to know if you could write
    a litte more on this topic? I’d be very thankful
    if you could elaborate a little bit further. Thank you!

  47. Pingback: An Old Witch Tells the President What to Do – 40 Years In The Desert

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